Origin of "O'Carolan's Air"

Posted In: Repertoire

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    evolene_t on #225420

    Hello everyone!

    I’ve taken a liking to the Celtic beginner song “O’Carolan’s Air” : the score can be found in Betty Paret’s First Harp Book.

    Betty Paret Book

    Josh Layne made a video showing finger placements and the likes.

    Here’s the thing : looking around, I couldn’t find any other versions of the same song and it’s not in the O’Carolan compilations that one can find in books, CDs or websites.
    The consensus is that although it’s called O’Carolan’s Air, it’s definitely not an original O’Carolan song.

    Does anyone know more about it? Who the composer is, why is it called that way? Is it an hommage?
    The only videos I found were people paying the Parret version, and I’d like to know if other harpists have made other arrangements.

    Thank you all!

    wil-weten on #225425

    I only found an arrangement of three pages from Cynthia Boener for harp and flute at: https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/o-carolan-s-air-for-harp-and-flute-digital-sheet-music/20662908

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by wil-weten. Reason: removed a typo
    Biagio on #225430

    Also known as Carolan’s Welcome, there are many arrangements. Here are several on The Session:

    Yes, it is an O’Carolan composition. As with all of his, we only know of the tune, not the full arrangement.

    wil-weten on #225437

    Hi Biagio, the funny thing is, that indeed, O’Carolan’s Welcome is also known as O’Carolan’s Air, but… O’Carolan’s Air in Betty Paret’s book is quite a different tune.

    paul-knoke on #225441

    Here ya go:

    Biagio on #225442

    Since I don’t have Betty Parret’s score Wil, I on’t know what to say except that the tune has many versions played at different tempos and with different ornaments. Here’s another – faster than by Josh and more/different ornaments.

    Again, to answer the Op’s question, I’d suggest starting with the 27+/- version on The Session.

    Hope that helps!


    emma-graham on #225443

    I’m a bit confused re the videos posted. Evolène and Biagio seem to have posted the same version of O’Carolan’s Welcome – but neither of those is Josh Layne’s Version of O Carolan’s air as published by Betty Paret! That is, as Wil has said, a completely different tune. I’ve attempted to add it below (but if I somehow post the same video as above a third time then we’ll know there are Gremlins about!!)

    There is another, slightly different version of the Betty Paret Air in Fun From the fIrst – vol2 by Samuel Milligan. It is also attributed to O’ Carolan.

    evolene_t on #225460

    @ Wil Weten, I’m afraid your link is broken but I would like to have a look at it.

    @ Emma Graham = I might be mistaken but you have posted the same video as I have… And I agree with you : O’Carolan’s Welcome is a well-known Carolan song.
    And as you said : it is not the same air as the Paret version, shown by Layne. I’ve tried listening to various versions, slower or faster, but when none of the notes and patterns are the same, it’s a stretch to assume it is.

    I’m surprised to see these responses that assume I haven’t searched around and listened to O’Carlolan’s Welcome. I mean, if I’m asking here, it’s for a reason, and it’s not hard to listen to 2mn of the Josh Layne version.

    Here is another version for those who don’t want to watch the Josh Layne video : this is a harp teacher that plays the whole of the Betty Paret book for her students.

    Any thoughts?

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by evolene_t.
    Biagio on #225462

    Trying to nail down these old tunes by name can be as troubling as identifying a tree species by common name (when is a maple not a maple? when it’s called a sycamore in the US). There are by the Session count 37 names for the (actual) O’ Carolan tune – and who can tell how many that share elements?

    I guess the best way to solve this question would be to ask Josh or Betty – we can only guess (I guess). One thing’s for sure – the original tune did not have accidentals a la Josh (Turlough O’ Carolan played a wire harp).

    I wrote to Josh, we’ll see what he can tell us. If not…Betty!


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    wil-weten on #225463

    Hi Evolène, I just retried the link I gave and it still works for me. Perhaps the site just had a hick up? Otherwise, perhaps they block access to people from certain countries? Anyway, if you still can’t get there, I will try and send you some print screens

    Biagio on #225466

    A (possible) light bulb moment, Evolene: this may be one of the ten “unnamed” tunes found in the O’ Carolan Collection; if you are up for sorting through them, here is a link to the Collection at the Old Music Project:


    According to the Wiki reference posted by Paul, it is the first of those ten.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    emma-graham on #225470

    Evolène I think there must have been a glitch in the site as when I looked last time your link and Biagio’s were the same but now yours is clearly Josh Layne. Hence my confusion! That possibly also explains why Biagio is not hearing the difference between Betty’s Air and O’Carolan’s Welcome?? Curious.

    Biagio, I looked at these unnamed tunes and none of them is Betty’s Air.

    It would be nice to know its actual origins as it always proves very popular with my beginner students.

    evolene_t on #225477

    How odd that the videos got mixed up! Will-Weten, your link does work now. Weird! Glad we cleared that up anyway 🙂

    The tune is not in The complete Carolan Songs and airs Book and CD arranged by Caitriona Rowsome either by the way.

    Hence a general consensus that the song is an hommage to O’Carolan, and/or later mis-attributed to him. I have no notions of musicology but people that have studies his tunes say that this Air doesn’t sound like him : the accidental are one cue.

    wil-weten on #225478

    Hi Evolène, eh,,, you mean the accidental in the accompaniment of the air as there is none in the melody? From O’Carolan’s music only the single melody lines are left, so everybody needs to arrange the music herself. 🙂 So the accidental has nothing to do with the composer. As to style, I don’t dare to say anything about that.

    Anyway, I’m glad the link did work out in the end. In the mean time I managed to make screen shots and send them to your account in the French harp forum.

    Biagio on #225480

    I’m interested to know now too, it is indeed a beautiful haunting melody. I do detect elements of Carolan’s Dream – which was not composed by him either but is at least contemporaneous.

    Maybe someone was just having fun or it is a tribute. It happens.

    Fun! I guess that if Josh cannot say for sure, someone would have to as Betty.

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